Beware of bright shiny objects, or next projects

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“Look up in the sky — it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s….” a bright shiny object — the next program of the month designed to save the company from the perils of the market or the organization’s culture. Whether it is another restructuring, a performance improvement program, business process re-engineering, or the latest guru’s potion, businesses seem to have this propensity to sign up for the latest program of the month to fix their current challenge. And when that program doesn’t work, they go on to the next bright shiny object.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Rarely do the desired results ever get achieved. What does happen, though, is that workforce morale typically goes down, as does leadership’s credibility. You can be agile and flexible without being fickle. It is critical that leadership have the character, will, and discipline to grow the business by engaging change, rather than just reacting to it.

Programs don’t fix problems. People do. Restructurings don’t resolve organizational challenges. Leadership does. Cultures evolve slowly because they are populated with people. Gurus come and go, but the market does not — it just continues to morph and change.

The tendency to move from one bright shiny object to another may be driven by any number of things. Fear would seem to take first place — fear of failure, loss of market share or competitive position, or being vulnerable to market forces. A close second would be our short term approach to performance, followed by the realities that cultural and behavioral change are simply difficult to do. It’s much easier to adopt a new program than to deal with the inside changes that individuals and teams need to make in how they work together or address market changes. Avoidance and resistance to change become the real strategy — with predictable outcomes.

What is the alternative?

It’s all about leadership. If the leader is not committed to the change initiative, from the inside out, it won’t last. So, at the risk of oversimplifying what is a complex leadership challenge, here are four “P’s” to help frame the alternative to bright shiny objects:

Passion: leadership is passionate about the new direction and remains passionate about it over time; no programs of the month

Patience: leadership is patient in the face of business and organizational adversity; there is the character to remain focused on where the organization needs to go, both from a business, people, and cultural perspective

Persistence: leadership is persistent in the face of resistance from individuals and groups who may find the new direction a threat to their power, position, or paradigm

Positive: leadership remains positive in intent and attitude as a new paradigm is created; the positive forces within the organization are engaged and aligned around the new direction

You don’t win a marathon by not training for it. You don’t win a marathon by quitting after the first mile or the fifth mile. You don’t win it by avoiding the pain and the hurt that comes at the tenth mile. You win it by making the conscious choice to win, by having it as your intention, and then doing all the things required to do so. No bright shiny objects need apply.

Edward M. Marshall, Ph.D. is a Senior Partner for Organizational Leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. He can be reached at marshalle@ccl.org, or 919.265.9616.